Sempra Energy and NREL collaborate to advance future net-zero energy systems

Source: press release, 10 June 2021

In 2013, Sempra Energy’s subsidiary San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and NREL joined to establish the nation’s first utility-owned community microgrid in Borrego Springs, California
In 2013, Sempra Energy’s subsidiary San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and NREL joined to establish the nation’s first utility-owned community microgrid in Borrego Springs, California (photo: Sempra Energy)

Sempra Energy has announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), providing a framework for a joint effort to advance future net-zero energy systems. The MoU, which builds off nearly 10 years of ongoing collaboration, will continue current work researching and developing innovative solutions to help shape a lower-carbon future through technology and applications capable of withstanding increasing energy demand and broad adoption while advancing future innovation.

“To achieve global carbon-neutrality, energy systems will need to transform dramatically over the coming decades. Our partnership with NREL drives forward a vision to advance the energy systems of the future by focusing on innovation and resiliency,” says Lisa Alexander, senior vice president of corporate affairs and chief sustainability officer for Sempra Energy. “New investment and innovative partnerships are critical to developing solutions that will manifest a global energy transition while promoting economic growth and prosperity.”

“Building on our strong history of collaboration, we are excited to accelerate our work with Sempra to advance clean energy solutions,” says Doug Arent, executive director for strategic public-private partnerships at NREL. “Researching key synergies across power, low carbon fuels and industrial sectors are expected to provide critical innovations toward realising a low carbon, equitable, affordable, secure and reliable energy economy.”

Sempra Energy and NREL have been collaborating for nearly a decade on cooperative and multi-year projects exploring the development, access and integration of low-carbon fuels and microgrid technology. In 2013, Sempra Energy’s subsidiary San Diego Gas & Electric Co. (SDG&E) and NREL joined to establish the nation’s first utility-owned community microgrid in Borrego Springs, Calif., connected to a local 26-megawatt solar field (owned by a third party), two battery storage systems, two generators, and an ultracapacitor. The microgrid, which is being upgraded so that it can operate on 100% clean energy, was designed to provide consistent power flowing to the remote desert town during emergencies and planned outages on the larger grid. In 2017, Sempra Energy’s subsidiary Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) and NREL partnered to create, validate and integrate the nation’s first carbon-free, power-to-gas pilot-system. The technology takes excess electricity and converts it to hydrogen, which can be used, stored, or combined with carbon dioxide and fed to a bioreactor to produce renewable natural gas (RNG). This innovative technology could provide North America with a large-scale, cost-effective solution for storing excess energy produced from renewable sources. Additionally, Sempra Energy and NREL have coordinated efforts to research the impacts of hydrogen blending in natural gas networks and studied potential pathways for wholesale market access to hydrogen production facilities.

Under the MoU, which is not legally binding but sets forth a framework for cooperation, Sempra Energy and NREL will coordinate and share objectives focused on:

  • Advancing artificial intelligence to scale solutions across the U.S. and enable cities to reach clean energy goals.
  • Integrating low-carbon fuel solutions, including hydrogen, renewable natural gas, carbon capture, utilisation and sequestration, and fuel cells.
  • Exploring innovative solutions towards 100% renewable energy communities, requiring and implementing smart and enhanced controls, integration and operational capabilities as a blueprint for expansion.
  • Enhancing electric grids with technology that upgrades the infrastructure with a focus on reliability, connectivity and security.
  • Promoting viable net-zero solutions that are delivered with equity and widespread community access.